Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Bad Case of the ________.

It's allergy season again. (Isn't that the beginning of one of those "Ask your doctor about Zertinase" -type ads?) But aah, yes, the marketers know how to launch their volleys just at the time temperatures in the half-tundra part of Wisconsin hit springlike mid-sixties. (Heck, mid-fifties would even do it). The same way stores can alternate their stocks with rubber boots up front or snowshovels, depending on mother nature's current whim.

Aside from advertising, I could tell you that it's allergy season because my poor (and until now, unaffected) toddler had watery eyes and a runny nose in addition to his spring fever which kept him cumulatively at the park for four hours the other day.

Somehow, allergies seem to be a particularly American problem. It seems like almost every suburban child I know is allergic to something (ranging from the annoying to the life-threatening). It seems to go along with Americans' ever-present stomach and heartburn issues (the year-round target of those drug ads, along with E.D., which will not be discussed here).

I remember my husband telling me that when he came to this country, he kept seeing all these ads for heartburn relief. He didn't know what heartburn was (I think he's also probably never had it in his life, which also means that it ranked lower on the list of vocabulary to know). He thought to himself, "What is this terrible plague of heartburn that Americans have?" Until he realized what the translation of heartburn was, that is, and thought we were all cuckoo.

Aaah, the American epidemics. In the interest of self-disclosure, I must admit that I am a frequent sufferer of heartburn (that was, until I started on Protonix, which I love, though not as much as I love my Zoloft) and I have many known allergies (like to dust, mold and mollusks-- don't ask) as well as mere sensitivities-- like to green peppers and cooked onions.

So my question is: are we all just whacked? I mean, I know I'm somewhat whacked, but come on... I can't be just making this shit up in my spare time. And, while I'd like to blame it on the ancestral inbreeding of my tribe, I come up short given the fact that it seems like all Americans-- whether Jew, Gentile or Athiest-- seem to have similar issues, albeit perhaps not all at once. (I consider myself abundantly gifted in this and so many ways!)

I've heard people explain that the rise in allergies is partially due to people over-cleaning, having super-fastidious homes, using antibacterial agents to do everything from sanitize their hands to their toilet bowls. Let me debunk this at least in my particular case: Love my mom as I do, she was never, I repeat never a good housekeeper when I was a child. Doting, interesting, funny, creative? Yes. Clean and organized? Not so much. I mean, everything looked OK, but I'm not sure I would have eaten off her floor (though, wait a minute-- I guess I did eat off her floor). Well, you know what I mean.

And I certainly won't win any awards for housecleaning, either.

Which leaves us with a few other options: other environmental factors, and genetics. Well, I've got the genetics one down pat. And I don't think in environment we're winning anything, either. Despite the fact that midwesterners seem to feel immune to big bad urban pollution, we've got lots of other pollution (sometimes worse pollution!) of our own in the form of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and god-knows-what-else floating around in our air and water. (I wish I could find the study I'm thinking of, which I saw a while ago, but apparently men in the midwest have lower sperm counts than those in big cities precisely because they have higher exposure to these environmental toxins).

All else aside, I wish that I could say that aside from medicating ourselves to the next side of kingdom come and hermetically sealing ourselves in bubbles, I'm not sure what there is to be done about all of this. I was intrigued, though, and somewhat horrified by this article that I saw in the NYT about a chain of hotels offering purified, anti-allergenic, ozone-blasted rooms.

On one hand, what total overkill! How absurd! On the other hand, a small dream fulfilled! I always suffer when I have to stay in hotels. My suffering is twofold: The curtains, carpets, linens, the mattresses and pillows (especially bad) harbor dust mites which make me stuff up, have a dry itchy throat and not be able to sleep; I also suffer from extreme cootie-sensitivity. You don't have to show me some infrared light to convince me of all the small particles of human skin, fluids (oh my lord let's not go there) that are flying around in your typical hotel room. I am a human infrared light. I know it's everywhere.

Which reminds me of my friend Elyse, who is also a big cootie-phobe. She told me that she went with her boyfriend to a hotel and she was having a big cootie-freak and was standing, paralyzed. He asked her what was wrong and she told him she was freaking out about cooties. This being early on in their relationship, he didn't know about her cootie issues, and being German, he didn't understand the word cooties. She explained, "cooties are invisible, non-existant germs that give you the skeeves." (She then explained the skeeves).

He knew just what to do. He took out an imaginary can of anti-cootie spray and sprayed down the bed. "Does that help?" he asked. "Actually, sort of," she said. "Now can you do the couch?"


Nick W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick W. said...

Accidently sent this too soon. Here it is in full:

Okay, you're not a freak. Well, at least not about the allergies. I actually have a tangential professional relationship with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and, according to allergists, the human race is more sensitive to allergies these days than in days past.

And the dramatic increase in hand-washing, anti-bacterial this and that, and better overall sanitation has made us a bit more sensitive to other environmental irritants. Worth the cost in terms of decreased disease and other germ related debilitations.

Mostly though I think it's just that we are much more aware of asthma and allergies than we ever were in the past. In the past it was just called "hay fever", and folks just endured it.

I've never really considered that allergies are worse here in the U.S. than elsewhere. I guess it could be a result of more pollution, but I rather suspect it's mostly just perception-- the "rise" in allergies here in the states is fairly closely correlated to the rise of allergists and drugs that treat allergies. Which is to say, when there wasn't a solution, few people even realized there was a problem.

Allergists are now making progress in other parts of the world, so I suspect that those places will soon experience a "rise" in allergies similar to the U.S. Though stress is also at least correlated with, if not specifically causal of, allergies, so maybe America is more allergy prone because of our lifestyle.

DaxPWD said...

I never realized that this was an American phenomenon. we have such good lives that we can worry about more mundane things like heartburn?

Since you won't talk about ED I will ;). Just before you posted this was reading something that said that ED isn't something that just happens or is a normal part of aging but rather a fully fixable sign of other disease. But pharmaceutical companies want us to believe it’s something that just happens so we’ll give them money to fix it. A side effect is that it engenders really bad attitudes about normal aging, etc.

Interesting topic!